Monday, October 25, 2010

Planning for Denali

About a year ago, while running with a friend, Candi, during lunchtime, she mentioned that she was interested in climbing Denali in 2011. That sounded great to me – I was definitely interested in climbing Denali, but I wasn’t interested in doing it in 2010. 2011 sounded perfect. Candi wanted to have 6 people on the team – 3 for each rope team, and 2 teams in case someone fell into a crevasse. A team self-rescue would be much easier with 6 people, total. Neither of us wanted more than that – too many personalities to deal with! I immediately thought of 2 of my regular climbing partners, who I was sure would want to join us, David and Tom. David was an immediate “yes!” We started putting feelers out for who would be interested in such an endeavor in 2011 (Denali climbs typically happen sometime in May through July). Several people started to express interest.

Candi, David, and I took the local mountaineering organization’s Expedition Class in January-March of this year. My primary purpose in taking the class was to learn how to deal with sleds, which are primarily used in Alaska. It was also good to get refreshers on the high altitude medicines and to get tips from others on their expeditions.

The three of us started planning climbs together to get some experience climbing with each other. Denali is quite the commitment – likely 3 weeks, and potentially 4 weeks, mostly on a glacier, together, constantly working together, either climbing, digging/sawing/building camp, melting snow, cooking/eating, taking care of each other in case of illness, or discussing the weather, next day’s plans, etc. Good/compatible team selection is frequently cited as the number 1 criterion for a successful expedition. Our three-some climbs didn’t work out due to weather and our crazy schedules, but we all did get some climbing in during the summer, just not necessarily with each other. . .

We finally decided that we needed to start meeting, regularly, to make sure that we were making progress toward our goal. Candi, David, and I started regular once a month meetings in June. David got some preliminary info on logistics (flights, shuttles, climbing fees), Candi talked to folks who have guided on Denali, and I created spreadsheets. . . We met with a member of a previous successful Denali climb, made some basic decisions, such as what route we’d take, and we came up with a schedule for when we would get together to climb/practice. We decided to do the practices, also on a once a month basis starting in October. We met for our first practice session this last weekend, and for this month’s meeting, I came up with the preliminary Denali climb schedule. At the meeting, looking at the schedule, it was starting to become real. And then we looked around the table and noticed that we had 6 people - and that these 6 were also the same 6 who showed up at the training session (I’d invited more). It’s starting to feel as though we have a team!

Before showing a couple of pictures, I’d like to explain that Candi has a friend, Mason, who has Juvenile Myositis (JM). She found out that there are many promising theories or avenues for research for curing this disease, but that the research is underfunded. She asked if we’d mind using our climb for helping to raise funds for JM research purposes. Of course, we all said that we didn’t mind and would help out, and one of our monthly meetings dealt with fundraising for curing JM. With that in mind, Candi and Mason’s Dad had a couple of banners made, and Candi and I have been taking photos with the banner ever since, as we climb and also prepare for the Denali climb.

Here is a shot of us working on the basics of a crevasse rescue system. Oleg is in back having “arrested” the fallen climber (me) and sled (my weight and that of the sled are on the rope that is clipped to his harness, out of sight – he’s using the rock to brace himself while I weight the rope, as if I were in a crevasse), and Candi is working on creating a Z system (something that makes it easier to haul out a climber rather than just trying to pull on the rope by one’s self), using the handy rock as the anchor. Tom is helping by holding the other end of the banner. . .:

And here we all are during a break for lunch after everyone practiced setting up a Z system:
Left to right we’re: Tom, Leora, Denis, Candi, David, Oleg.

The following picture shows Denis in the foreground, and you can just see David in the sun in the background. Both are practicing climbing out of a crevasse by “climbing the rope”, and having to deal with getting around the sled. We did all of this practice on a sunshiny day, without the snow, to make sure that we all had the concepts down. Later, we’ll do these things in the snow. Most, if not all, of us have practiced this, before, but practicing them, together, is important to see how we all work with each other and to make sure that we have a team understanding of what is expected:
I’ve climbed with every one of my teammates at least once, but they have not all climbed with each other. We’ll have to fix that! We have sooooo much more to do before we go on the climb, but it’s rather exciting to see it take shape, a year after Candi and I first discussed it. . .